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How to Tie Dye 101

As the saying goes: what goes around, comes around! Tie dye is back from the 70s (and 90s, too) in a big way! It seems that tie dye clothing and accessories are appearing everywhere, from dresses and skirts to sweatshirts and sweatpants, to bathing suits, leggings, tote bags, headbands… the list goes on!

We are fully onboard the tie dye train here at The Neon Tea Party and are SO excited to share our best tie dye tutorials and tips with you in this blog post! Be sure as well to check out our selection of Tie Dye Kits and supplies to get hooked up with everything you need to tie dye like a pro!

In this post, we’re covering Tie Dye 101: how to prep, tie, dye, and wash dyed items. As far as patterns, I’ll walk you through some of the most well-known patterns such as swirl, bullseye, and scrunch, as well as a rainbow arc and a funky shibori-inspired technique that creates a pattern of triangles or squares all across your fabric.

Stay tuned for upcoming posts where we’ll dive into more advanced techniques and ideas! But for now, this blog post is the place to learn the basics of tie dye.

 

WHICH TYPE OF DYE TO USE

  • If you’re interested in the easiest and most vibrant dye option, I can’t recommend enough Tulip® Brand’s One-Step Tie Dye®. The “one-step” in these kit names refers to the missing step of needing to soak garments in a mixture of water and soda ash before dyeing, making these kits so easy to use. Just add water to the dry dye powder in neat squeeze bottles, shake and get dye your heart out!
  • Tulip® One-Step Tie Dye® Refill packs are included in both sizes of our Tie Dye DIY Kitthe Deluxe Kit comes with all 9 gorgeous colors, while our Starter Kit comes with five colors of your choice!
  • If you’re planning to tie dye using fabric dyes other than Tulip® One-Step Tie Dye®, be sure to follow the instructions on the dye package as there are additional steps involved including soaking fabric in water and liquid dish soap, soda ash, and salt. Be sure to follow the instructions on the dye’s package for best dyeing and color results.

IMPORTANT: Dye maintains its potency for only 48-72 hours. I recommend activating only the colors and amounts you plan on using in a given session to avoid wasting precious dye. Keep this in mind when choosing the kits and dyes you plan on using, as well.

WHAT TO DYE

That is TOTALLY up to you! The one important requirement for anything you’re dyeing is that it’s a natural fiber: cotton (100% only!), silk, rayon, and wool are all great options. Acrylic / polyester fabrics won’t work, and neither will any sort of blended fabric.

OTHER SUPPLIES YOU’LL NEED

Dyeing is messy business! Having the following items on hand will help you keep your project, your space and yourself as tidy as possible throughout the process.

  • Tub or a large bucket of water (for wetting fabric and rising gloved hands between colors)
  • Squirt bottles*
  • Rubber bands*
  • Plastic table cloth* (even when dyeing on grass)
  • Metal rack & tray or absorbent paper towels
  • Rubber gloves*
  • Apron* or smock
  • Ziplock bags or plastic wrap (plus a Sharpie if you’re doing this with friends!)
  • Cardboard + scissors (for square and triangle patterns only)
  • Fabric pencil or washable markers (for rainbow arc pattern only)

*Indicates item comes in our Tie Dye DIY Kits!

TIE DYE PREP

It’s recommended that anything you’re planning to dye is washed first with a bit of detergent and nothing else (no fabric softener nor dryer sheet). This removes any potential residue from the fabric and shrinks it down to size if it’s new. For the t-shirts in this tutorial, I skipped that step and the dye came out just fine (in case you want to skip that step too!), however I’m sure the dye would have come out even nicer had I decided to wash the shirts first.

If you’re using Tulip® One-Step Tie Dye®, prep is only more step: dunk item(s) in water and ring out excess water.

If you’re using another type of dye, be sure to follow the exact instructions on the dye. Don’t skip any steps!

 

TIEING

Once your items are prepped and damp, it’s time to tie! Start by choosing your desired pattern, then follow the steps below to learn how to tie your items to get the results you want. You’ll use rubber bands to secure the patterns in place. Be sure to tie your rubber bands snugly to prevent too much dye from leaking between the folds and eliminating white space.

Scrunch & Bullseye

 

Scrunch

A scrunch pattern is one of the easiest to create. Simply scrunch your fabric towards the center to form either a long snake-like shape like the one pictured above, or a round scrunched blob. Band your scrunched creation going across in multiple directions to secure the scrunching in place.

 

Bullseye

A classic tie dye pattern, you can choose to do one big bullseye over the entire item (pictured here) or a smattering of smaller bullseyes, like in the example below. To create one large bullseye, identify the point that you want to be the center. Pinch the fabric on that point and pull your item upward from that point to the rest of the fabric drapes down. Wrap a rubber band just below the center point, then tie additional rubber bands incrementally down the fabric until you get close to the bottom.

Smalls Bullseyes, Swirl & Triangles/Squares

 

Small Bullseyes

You can create a pattern of smaller bullseyes by laying out your fabric and tieing little points around the surface with rubber bands. I recommend spacing out two rubber bands at each point to create two rings on each mini bullseye. This helps ensure the pattern remains true to its name.

Swirl

Another classic tie dye pattern, swirls are super satisfying to create. Identify where you want the center of your swirl, pinch the fabric in that place, and gently twist the fabric over and over until a swirl begins to form. Once all of your fabric has been incorporated into the swirl creating a big circle, band the fabric like slices of pizza until your swirl feels secure.

 

Triangles / Squares

Triangle and square patterns are commonly seen on shibori indigo dye creations. The method for both is the same – the only difference being how you fold the fabric in the second step. The first step is to fold your fabric into a long strip. If dyeing a t-shirt, be sure to fold in the sleeves. Next, accordion-fold your fabric in either a triangle or square shape. Be sure you’re going from front to back to create a true accordion fold. Last, cut two pieces of cardboard slightly smaller than the shape of your fold. Sandwich the folded fabric between the two pieces of cardboard and wrap rubber bands around to secure. The cardboard prevents dye from filling in the complete surface of the outside, creating the same negative space that will be revealed between the folds.

Rainbow Arc

This rainbow pattern is particularly fun to create! Start by drawing the top and bottom of your rainbow arc onto dry fabric using a washable fabric pencil or washable marker. Next, gently fan-fold the fabric along each of the two lines so that each drawn-on line begins to appear straight on the top surface of your folds. You may want to pinch the two gathers and pull them away from one another as you go to straighten the folds in between them. Once all the fabric along the arc lines is gathered, band your fabric on each of those lines. Then add bands incrementally between the two outside bands to identify space for each color of your rainbow arc.

If you’d prefer a video to show you how to do this, “Mr. Tie Dye” on YouTube has a helpful tutorial.

This same method can be use to create all sorts of patterns. You can even fold the shirt in half first before drawing an arc to create a classic double-arc rainbow.

 

DYEING

The way you tie your fabric is half the battle, and the way you apply is the other half! Follow our suggested application methods below to achieve the results pictured in this post or have fun experimenting with different color placement!

Prep

Dyeing is messy business. Before touching the dye, be sure you have gloves on your hands, a table cloth on your work surface, and a smock or apron. Set out a metal rack over a tray or lay out a piece of paper towel slightly bigger than the item you’re dying, and place the item on the rack or paper towel before dyeing. The rack or paper towel will catch excess dye and prevent it from pooling beneath your creation and leaving dye where you don’t want it to go.

Dye Intensity

Another interesting thing to note is that you can adjust the dye color intensity by playing with the dye-to-water ratio. Tulip® One-Step Tie Dye® is pretty intense to begin with, so if you’d like a more pastel look, shake out some of the dye from the prepped dye bottle before adding water, or if you have a partially empty bottle of dye, add more water to it to dilute the remaining dye.

In any case, you can test your dye colors before applying them to your fabric by squirting a little on a paper towel. The color will be less intense after washing, so be sure to take that into account when deciding if the color is what you’re going for.

Choosing Colors

Colors that are applied next to one another will inevitably bleed into one another, so placing colors next to each other that look nice when mixed is a good idea. Pink next to blue might create a peek of purple while yellow next to red will create a little orange. However, purple next to yellow will create brownish splotches, which are less than ideal. In short, avoid placing complementary colors next to one another. If you would like to use a set of complementary colors next to one another regardless, just be sure to leave ample white space between each section of dye so that the colors can bleed into white, rather than into each other.

 

Swirl

The main reason I recommend rubber banding your swirl like a pizza pie is because that’s also how you’ll apply the die. Choose as many colors as you’d like, put them in order of colors that blend nicely together, and apply in slices. Flip your pie and apply the same colors to the back side. This method results in perfect spiral stripes like the example pictured in this post.

 

Bullseye

Bullseye is simple when it comes to dye. Each banded section can be a different color or the whole thing can be one color! White rings will appear where the rubber bands are so it’s totally up to you what colors you want the bulls eye rings to be.

 

Small Bullseyes

I recommend dyeing each bullseye “nub” before dying the rest of the item. Take each nub one at a time, hold it away from the rest of the fabric, and carefully apply dye. Each nub can be one color or as many colors are there are sections. Once each nub has been dyed, lay the item out flat and carefully apply dye to the remaining surface area.

 

Triangles / Squares

This is one pattern that I prefer dyeing one single color, however you can totally add different colors to the fabric to create a funky multi-colored mix. Turn the folded up fabric as you go to make sure you dye each exposed surface. Also, the more white you want to appear, the tighter your rubber bands should be to prevent the dye from dripping inside the folds, so adjust accordingly.

 

Scrunch

While the example above is covered just in black dye, a confetti of colors looks awesome, as does stripes. Again, just be sure to leave ample white space between colors that might bleed together into brown.

 

Rainbow Arc

Apply a different color to each banded section in the rainbow order of your choice. You can either wet your item before applying the dye so that the dye flows easily on your fabric, or leave your item dry and massage the dye into the fabric to ensure that it takes. The example in this post was done dry, creating distinct edges on the rainbow. You can either leave the top and bottom of your item white or dye with any color of your choice. I find pastel colors works nicely here.

 

SOAKING, RINSING & WASHING

Once you’ve completed the dyeing process, you’ve come to the hardest part: waiting! There’s nothing like the anticipation of letting your dye soak and waiting to see how your creation turns out.

SOAK

When you’re finished dyeing, place each item in a separate ziplock bag or wrap it up with plastic wrap to keep the item moist while the dye sets. Choose whichever method will most easily prevent the different colors from making contact with one another. For example, a long, skinny bullseye might be better off wrapped in plastic wrap like a burrito, rather than coiled up to fit into a plastic bag.

Let your items sit overnight to absorb the dye, or follow the length of time indicated on your dye instructions. In general, the longer you let the dye sit, the more intense the color will be.

 

RINSE

Once your dye has set, it’s time for the moment of truth. Throw those gloves back on, head over to a sink or tub and remove those rubber bands to reveal your creations! Rinse each item separately under hot water, rinsing out excess dye until the water runs clear. If you’re rinsing multiple items, be sure not to pile them on top of each other as you go, as the wet dye will transfer.

 

WASH & DRY

Be sure to wash items right after rinsing as colors can bleed into the white if they sit and will stain those areas. If you need to wait, it’s best to lay your item flat in the meantime so wet colors don’t run onto other parts of the fabric.

You want to wash each item individually with nothing else in the machine. Set load to large, water to hot, and add a small amount of detergent.

Dry each item individually as well without a dryer sheet. Single items can stick to the wall of the dryer so if you have a tennis ball, you can throw it in with the item to ensure it dries all the way.

Wash your creations individually for the next couple washes to prevent remaining dye from staining other items.

 

And there you have it!! All our tie dye secrets!! If you still have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below, email me at marisa@theneonteaparty.com or DM us on Instagram at @theneonteaparty. Be sure to tag @theneonteaparty so we can see what tie dye amazingness you create!!! We can’t wait!

Happy dyeing!!!!

Peace, love & neon,
Marisa

37 Comments

  1. nadya on July 9, 2019 at 10:06 am

    Thank YOU!! This is Wonderful 🙂

    • the neon tea party on July 10, 2019 at 11:52 am

      You are so welcome, Nadya!!!! Happy tie dyeing!!!! -Marisa

      • roz on June 10, 2020 at 11:51 pm

        What is the exact measurement of a dye color in a 1.5 liter of water?

        • the neon tea party on June 17, 2020 at 10:20 am

          Hi Roz! Are you referring to using Tulip One Step Tie Dye Refill packs, or another type of dye? Thanks! -Marisa

    • Blaq Sol on January 19, 2020 at 11:44 pm

      Thank you so much, I’m so fascinated with tie dying. It started two years ago when we did it for one of our activities at our vacation Bible school session. It was a BIG hit with EVERYBODY ? and so now, we tie dye every year!! ?????

  2. Delynn Goodrich on July 11, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Looking forward to trying it this weekend!! Thanks!

    • the neon tea party on July 11, 2019 at 2:07 pm

      Yayy!! Have so much fun, Delynn!!!

      • Kathryn Doig on December 28, 2019 at 8:46 pm

        Does oi have to be hot water
        Will cold suffice

        • the neon tea party on December 29, 2019 at 10:45 am

          Hi Kathryn! Cold water is great for wetting the items you’re dyeing. When you rinse your items, you’ll want to do so under warm/hot water to get out the excess dye particles. Items can be washed in any temperature water, however if you use cold water, be sure to wash your item separately for the first 3-4 washes. I hope that helps! -Marisa

      • Blaq Sol on January 19, 2020 at 11:55 pm

        Thank you so much, I’m so fascinated with tie dying. It started two years ago when we did it for one of our activities at our vacation Bible school session. It was a BIG hit with EVERYBODY ? and so now, we tie dye every year!! ?????

        • the neon tea party on January 23, 2020 at 10:09 am

          You’re so welcome for this blog post! That’s awesome that you guys have incorporated tie dye into your annual tradition! It’s truly one of the most fun and easy-for-all projects!!!! It’s so fun to play with the color dyes and the big reveal after it sits is the BEST part!!!! Don’t hesitate to reach out for tips before your next group tie dye session!! xo, Marisa

  3. Big cheese on October 22, 2019 at 5:12 pm

    This was super cute but mine bleed

    • the neon tea party on October 23, 2019 at 10:55 am

      Hi there!! I’m sorry to hear about your bleeding tie dye! Did you put your items in the wash then dryer after rinsing? This part is key! Be sure to read the section “Rinse” and then “Wash & Dry” — if you wash and dry you should have no problem with bleeding, as any bleeding will rinse out. The sooner after you rinse, the whiter the white portion will be. I hope that helps! -Marisa

    • SARAH on August 20, 2020 at 7:54 am

      My colors are so vibrant when I dye them, but then they fade a ton after rinsing and washing. Any tips? Thank you!!

      • the neon tea party on August 24, 2020 at 1:03 pm

        Hi Sarah! Yes that will definitely always happen a little bit, as the dye is much more intense before it’s rinsed. They also appear lighter when the fabric is dry, since wet fabric always appears darker. Our best tips are 1. let your items soak in the dye for at least 24 hours and 2. handwash only to keep the color the most vibrant possible. You can also try adding a splash of white vinegar to a bowl of water and letting your item soak in that after giving an initial dye rinse – the vinegar helps to bind the dye even further. Hope that helps! xx, Marisa

  4. Meli on March 30, 2020 at 8:35 am

    This was great, but the white parts of my shirt turned light blue when rinsing! ??

    • the neon tea party on May 5, 2020 at 1:08 pm

      Hi Meli! Make sure you wash your item in the machine RIGHT after you rinse out the dye! That should return the white parts to white!

  5. Cheyne on April 18, 2020 at 12:56 am

    When I wash it out it always turn back to white any advise.

    • the neon tea party on May 5, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Hi Cheyne! Likely the fabric you used was not a natural fabric, and therefore the dye doensn’t stick. Try dyeing ONLY natural fibers such at 100% cotton, silk, rayon and wool. I hope this helps!

  6. Lexi on April 29, 2020 at 7:04 pm

    If you wash the tie dye before it sets what will happen?

    • the neon tea party on May 5, 2020 at 1:16 pm

      Hi Lexi! It will just be lighter, which works really nicely if you want pastel colors. 🙂

  7. […] recent tie dye experience! I used the Tulip One-Step Tie-Dye Kit (15-Color Party Kit). FYI – here is a helpful blog post that I referred to and they used the Tulip dyes as […]

  8. Sam on May 10, 2020 at 6:27 pm

    There an infinite number of ways you can tie and dye a piece of clothing
    This is not even counting the number of different items that can be tie-dyed.

    If you want to learn about the intricacies of tie-dyeing, we invite you to check out our page here.

  9. Mindy on May 31, 2020 at 11:02 am

    hi! Very excited to get started ….what about using cashmere sweaters? Have a few old ones and would love to try! Can’t throw in the washer and dryer but can lay out to dry right? Thanks for your help, Mindy

    • the neon tea party on June 17, 2020 at 10:13 am

      Hi Mindy! This is a great question! I’ve never dyed cashmere before but I think just handling it gently and handwashing / air-drying will be your best bet! I found this tutorial which might be helpful as well: https://www.wikihow.com/Dye-Cashmere

      You’ll have to let me know how it turns out!

      Happy crafting! -Marisa

  10. Olivia on June 10, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    Do you have to wash all of them separately? Can you wash all of the tie-dye items together?

    • the neon tea party on June 17, 2020 at 10:19 am

      Hi Olivia! When you wash your tie dye for the first time after rinsing the dye, you can put items with similar colors in the same laundry load! If colors are different, you risk getting a splash of another color on your tie dye, so it’s up to you! I hope that helps! Happy crafting! -Marisa

  11. Nikki on June 18, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    I have been told by many professional tie dyers not to use tulip brand because it continues to fade with each wash. Do you find this to be true?

    • the neon tea party on June 18, 2020 at 7:59 pm

      Hi Nikki! Thanks for your question! To answer it: yes and no. If you’re looking for a very deep, rich, truly beautiful dye, you’ll definitely want to use a more concentrated dye like those from Jacquard. Tulip colors are indeed bright and fun and do hold up really nicely, but there might be a slight fade over time from washing — nothing major though. We love and recommend Tulip as a fun and easy craft dye that all can use with little fuss and fabulous results, but if you’re taking a more artistic, sophisticated approach to dyeing, Tulip isn’t the right fit for that. I hope that answers your question! -Marisa

  12. Kim on June 21, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    Hi thanks for the info. This batch of shirts we made ended up with some round rings of dye. I washed them on hot large load in the dryer immediately after rinsing them in the sink and removing elastics. I let them air dry on a hanger. Do you know why that could have happened?

    • the neon tea party on June 23, 2020 at 11:08 pm

      Hi Kim! I’m so sorry that happened! I’m not sure what could have done that — I think I’d have to see to help! Feel free to email photos to me at marisa@theneonteaparty.com and hopefully I’ll have a better answer. Thanks for crafting along with our tie dye tutorial!!! xx, Marisa

  13. Brett on August 4, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Hi! What prevents the white part of the shirt to turn colors/bleed?

    • the neon tea party on August 5, 2020 at 10:35 am

      Hi Brett! It depends on the dye, but if you’re using Tulip, if you rinse then immediately put it in the wash, the white parts should stay white! Other brands tend to bleed more. Also, when you rinse, use as high-pressure water as possible such as a tub faucet or hose. Hope that helps! -Marisa

  14. J.S. on August 22, 2020 at 2:33 pm

    I will be new to tie dyeing, and have the Tulip One Dye kit.

    1. Do you (or have to) use soda ash? If so, can Borax detergent, or washing soda be a replacement for it?

    2. Do you have to use hot/warm/cold water the for rinsing?

    3. What if you have a HE washer/dryer, what are the settings?

    • the neon tea party on August 24, 2020 at 1:06 pm

      Hi J.S.! With Tulip One-Step dye, you do not need to use soda ash. (Hence the “one-step” in the title!) I rinse and wash on warm but you can do so with cold for brightest results. Not sure the specific instructions for an HE washer/dryer, but I wash on a regular load with just a bit of detergent. You can find more washing instructions here: https://theneonteaparty.com/online-craft-studio/tie-dye/how-to-prep-wash-tie-dye/

      Hope that helps!

      xx, Marisa

  15. Kay on October 19, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    I want to dye elbows and body of a white long sleeve tee. However, I want to leave alot of the shirt white. Any tricks

    • the neon tea party on October 20, 2020 at 9:47 am

      So cute! Yes! You can just bend the sleeves at the elbows and rubber band the points, just like in the bullseye pattern. Same with the section of the body that you want to dye. Then apply dye only to those sections and keep them away from the rest of the shirt. You can wrap the dyed sections up with plastic wrap to keep the dye wet while it sits. Hope that helps!!!! Tag us on IG @theneonteaparty so we can see how it turns out! xo, Marisa

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